How do e-scooters compare to bikes?

By Andy Chivers

Andy is a trustee of Cyclox

Oxford’s e-scooter rental scheme  started in February 21 and is now one of more than 15 schemes in the country. Planned government legislation should approve personal e-scooters that reach certain safety standards by May 2024.

What might make you ditch your bike and hire one of these convenient machines, at least for short urban trips?

Scooters are seen as mechanically simpler than bikes, and of course hiring means you have no maintenance responsibility. If something does go wrong it’s not your problem. They are easy to find via the Voi app, in locations all over the city, and you don’t have to worry about theft. Renting an e-scooter avoids the problem of storing a bicycle.

You need to be over 18 with a driving licence to hire a scooter. They cost £1 to unlock plus 20p per minute after that. Voi have introduced a leasing option, for example £40 a month. Their maximum speed is 12 mph, limited for safety to 8 or even 5 mph in some parts of the city.

Pros and cons

Pink e-scooters parked in marked bay on pavement in Oxford

Although scooters can be seen on almost every street corner, you don’t see many of them abandoned on pavements or in ditches. But is it ideal that e-scooters are stored on pavements? Surely they should replace car-parking space rather than adding yet more clutter for pedestrians to avoid? 

The e-scooters seem to be popular with users and are not generating as much antipathy as the hire bikes did. Car drivers have commented that e-scooter riders are hard to see and appear vulnerable. We don’t yet have injury figures for Oxford, but in London there have been 25 serious injuries in 2.1 million trips over 18 months of operation. That’s about one injury per 80,000 rides.

Scooter vs bike

What about riding them? Given their tiny wheels, there are surprisingly few accidents caused by the wheel getting caught in a pothole, and riders seem to quickly become competent. Voi recommends wearing a helmet, but few riders do. Though you don’t get the free exercise of a bicycle, there are benefits from standing and balancing, which strengthen core muscles. Scooting is definitely better for you than sitting in a car. The electric motor will get you up hills without you ending up in a sweat. On the other hand, riding an e-scooter won’t warm you up in cold weather.

The bike wins hands down for carrying shopping  or other loads.

On a scooter, apart from a hook under the handlebar, there is no option but to carry everything on your back. In contrast even the most basic bike has many load-carrying options.

Data from Oxfordshire County Council show that average e-scooter trip is 1.5 miles long and figures from TfL suggest speeds of about 6 mph, so twice as fast as walking but nothing like as fast as a bike. However, my impression is that e-scooter riders easily keep up with most bikes on Oxford roads.

Who is using them?

There have been several studies looking at who is using e-scooters. Generally they seem to be replacing walking.  and not obviously reducing car use. This is disappointing, as getting people out of cars is a primary aim of these trials. (Once e-scooters are legalised they may well replace car journeys.) Walking is better for you, so there are no health benefits from that swap. 

The hope is that instead of driving into Oxford people will use public transport to Oxford and then hire an e-scooter to get to their destination if it is too far for them to walk. That would seem a good option for someone who would have been driving into Oxford on their own and doesn’t have much to carry. Are you, like me, tempted to give them a go?

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